The winner of the 2008 Nero’s Fiddle Award is New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The richest guy in Gotham recently visited the Eugene O’Neill Theater on West 49th Street to promote an initiative called Broadway Goes Green. The Great White Way’s marquees soon will feature 30,000 more compact-fluorescent light bulbs, the mayor marveled. Playbills and sets will be recycled. Also, costumes will be washed in cold water, not hot.
“That is going to have an impact that reverberates, we hope, far beyond Broadway,” an admittedly star-struck Bloomberg told the gathered thespians.
This is all quite lovely, but doesn’t the mayor of America’s largest city have anything better to do for his 8.2 million constituents?
While it hardly resembles ancient Rome ablaze, New York City has slid considerably from the lofty state of fiscal, physical, and cultural health it enjoyed when former mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani departed on January 1, 2002. Bloomberg took power that day, won re-election four years later, and recently badgered and cajoled the City Council into canceling a term-limits law so he could seek a third term.
Under Bloomberg, conditions initially remained stable, but lately they have gone south:
Public complaints about the homeless are up 6 percent over the past year. Growing numbers of vagrants push shopping carts full of their possessions and rattle coin-filled cups ever more loudly.
Graffiti is increasingly evident, from spray-painted gang signs to “scratchiti” gouged with blades into subway-car windows to “etchiti” burned with acid into glass windows and bus shelters.
“The police do an amazing job of responding to crimes, but with fewer officers, something’s got to give,” City Council public safety committee chairman Peter Vallone Jr. said in December 7’s New York Post. “The first thing to give is quality-of-life crimes, like noise and graffiti. But it won’t be long before serious crimes go up, as well.”
They already have. While this year’s overall crime rate has dropped 3.4 percent citywide through December 7, homicides have risen a worrisome 6.5 percent. Murders have grown 32.8 percent in Queens, 37.5 percent in Brooklyn South, and 100 percent in Staten Island.
Nonetheless, the city’s flagging finances prompted Bloomberg to postpone enrollment of the Police Academy’s next class of 1,000 rookies for six months.
Wall Street’s woes and a consequent $3.4 billion (13.6 percent) shortfall in tax revenues have smacked into Bloomberg’s spending curve. On his watch, city outlays have swollen 51 percent, from $41 billion to $62 billion. Bloomberg’s faith in big government has generated a $4 billion budget deficit through fiscal year 2010. Even if the City Council approves Bloomberg’s proposed budget cuts, City Hall estimates a $1.3 billion deficit will remain.
Amid these mounting woes, Bloomberg frets over whether Mary Poppins and The Lion King will rinse their outfits in brisk or boiling water.
Consider Sideshow Mike’s other niggling micro-initiatives:
Bloomberg summoned restaurateurs and dieticians to Gracie Mansion, the mayoral residence, in October to craft a “voluntary” plan to cut public salt consumption 20 percent by 2014. This follows Bloomberg’s ban on trans fats in eateries and another law requiring fast-food outlets to print caloric data on menus.
Bloomberg proposed a five-cent tax on each plastic bag handed to local retail consumers. While this could raise $16 million annually, “it’s not about revenue,” explains mayoral spokesman Mike Lavorgna. “It’s really about the environment.”
“Under Bloomberg, the number of parking tickets written is up 42 percent,” says Cooper Union professor Fred Siegel. “You’ve got parking cops who stand beside cars at 2:55 PM, waiting for them to be ticketed at 3:00. Some of this is legitimate traffic control. The rest of it is harassment for revenue’s sake.”
Bloomberg’s aides reportedly secured a mayoral luxury box at the new Yankee Stadium by relinquishing 250 parking spaces and revenues from three billboards.
Early on, Bloomberg fined businesses whose awnings were inscribed with anything other than the shops’ names and street addresses. Mere sales slogans triggered penalties.
More recently, Bloomberg installed nine new water filters in his City Hall office. Why? To lure employees to switch to tap water from that menace to society: bottled water.
Bloomberg needs to get back to basics. Crime, graffiti, homelessness, government spending, and taxes need to sink. Police patrols, clean sidewalks, economic opportunity, and fiscal restraint need to soar. To accomplish this, the last thing Michael Bloomberg needs is a Stradivarius.
– Deroy Murdock is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution.
© 2008 Scripps Howard News Service.